A Holy Endeavor

Buckle up, dear readers, because this week I’m returning to the roots of this blog and talking about my life as a trans person.

This year, at least 28 states are voting on anti-trans legislation. There’s a lot that’s fucked up about this. Just this week in Arkansas, a bill was passed that bans gender-affirming healthcare for minors. The (Republican) governor vetoed the bill, calling it “vast government overreach.” The legislature overruled his veto with a dishearteningly large majority vote. Make no mistake – this bullshit that’s marketed as “protecting children” will actually do devastating harm. Taking away a trans child’s access to affirming healthcare isn’t going to make them not trans. It will just make them miserable. (I will again post this Twitter thread that makes some really good points about all of this.)

Today at work our Pride ERG hosted a half-hour hangout where people could come and sit with each other and with our feelings about what happened in Arkansas. I’m glad I went, and I appreciate the other people who showed up, but even as I felt seen in a way that was validating, I felt…exposed, in a way that was less comfortable. I am the only trans person I know of at my company, and I’m out as nonbinary there. Most people at work respect my pronouns (which are they/them, by the way, which is at least the third time my pronouns have shifted in the last decade, which I am not apologizing for, because identity is fluid and can be complicated) – no one is actively disrespecting my identity, but sometimes people forget. I do my best to educate people and stand up for myself and for the people around me. And it’s exhausting.

Inextricably tied to all of the feelings I’m having about trans identity being up for legislative debate are feelings around bodily autonomy. One of the hardest and most beautiful lessons I have learned in the ten years since I started coming to terms with the fact that I was not, in fact, cisgender, is that my body is my home. It’s a home that I struggled for years and years to relate to, until I realized it was mine to change and mold into a shelter I could feel comfortable in (at least some of the time). This has shown up in big ways – the changes from testosterone, and having gender-affirming top surgery – but it’s also shown up in smaller ways. I can paint my nails. I am currently sporting what feels like a super queer haircut that I love. In the middle space between those extreme examples, I can get tattoos.

I knew I wanted tattoos by the time I was in my teens, if not before. I got my first one eleven years ago this month, just a couple months before I turned 22. It’s a trinity knot on my right forearm. I wanted a reminder that the parts of myself that so often felt fractured – body, mind, and spirit – were all part of the singular being that was me. Four years later, I got three tarot cards tattooed on my left forearm: the Hermit (because I am an introvert and I believe in both finding my own truth and in lighting the way to help other people find theirs), the Ace of Wands (because I am a person with a lot of creative energy who finds joy in making beautiful things), and the Nine of Pentacles (which is my constant reminder that my body is the home that I am creating for myself). A couple of years after that I got a few more, which had less in-depth meanings, in some ways (there’s a leaf on my right ankle that I got because it was pretty; I have a classic Winnie-the-Pooh illustration on my right arm, and an earth/air alchemical symbol that reminds me to stay grounded and breathe under that), but all of them were ways to exercise my bodily autonomy.

On Tuesday, I got my sixth (or eighth, depending on if you count the tarot cards as one tattoo or three) tattoo:

D&D and other tabletop roleplaying games have been a big part of my life over the past few years – through them I’ve connected with people I might never have met otherwise, and I’ve found so much joy in collaborative storytelling and getting to play with my friends as an adult. Just in the last month I started DMing my first game, and it’s been a blast. I knew that I wanted a D&D-themed tattoo to capture some of that. I told the artist (who has now done the majority of my tattoos) that I wanted “some sort of dragon and dice situation,” and I could not be happier with what she came up with. This little dragon clutching its d20 is better than anything I’d envisioned ahead of time.

As I was chatting with the artist during the tattoo, I mentioned that as a teenager I had sketchbooks full of dragons. I drew them because no one could tell me “that’s not how a dragon looks” – it was one of the things I loved about fantasy. She asked me what drew me to dragons, and I honestly didn’t have an answer at the time, but I’ve continued to think about it since then. I think there’s something about the wildness of them that called to me. In all the fantasy novels I read, there was this sense that you couldn’t really tame a dragon. Even in the ones where dragons and humans got along, it was because the dragons chose to treat the humans gently. There was something about that power that was appealing, for a whole host of reasons I’m sure I could delve into with a little help from my therapist.

Last fall, I wrote an autobiographical song that I kind of set aside after that songwriting session was over, but the chorus has been stuck in my head the past couple of days:

I’m building this wondrous body, creating my home
Something more suited to housing my curious soul
I dress it up in ink, in wool, and in leather
I know this act of creation is a holy endeavor

I don’t know that I have a huge sweeping point in all of this, except to say that trans people (like all people) are sacred, and the act of self-determination and self-discovery is a holy endeavor. I was raised with the idea that humans are created in the image of the Divine, and while I have a lot of complicated feelings about the picture of Divinity I was raised on, I think trans people are every bit as much a reflection of the Divine as anyone else. I am angry and sad and disheartened that there are so many people in power in the world right now who refuse to see that.

Anniversaries

Happy Thursday, dear readers!

I was so focused on my ER adventure last week that I completely missed the fact that last Thursday was my 6 year HRT anniversary. I’ve been on testosterone for six whole years! Which, incidentally, means this blog will hit its six year anniversary in a couple of weeks. I’ve blogged almost every week for six years, which is mind-boggling to me.

My therapist is constantly reminding me that I need to take time to recognize and celebrate progress. I’m not good at this. So today’s blog will attempt to do a bit of that.

A lot has changed in the past six years. My life has gained a welcome level of stability that wasn’t there before. I’m in a better place mentally than I was then. I had no idea when I started this part of this journey what would happen with my family. It’s been a trip…but I’ve ended up in a largely positive space. So that’s cool.

In addition to those personal anniversaries, there’s another important one coming up: Sunday will mark nine years since my partner and I went on our first date.

NINE YEARS. In two years we’ll have been together for a third of my life. It hasn’t always been easy, but it’s always been worth it.

In therapy this week we talked about how after three or so years in a relationship, we shift from thinking about that person as a new person in our lives to thinking of them as family. That means that unless we consciously work to rewire whatever dysfunctional attachment patterns we developed in our family of origin, we’ll perpetuate those in our family of choice. (On the one hand, breaking those dysfunctional patterns is overwhelming and difficult, but on the other, what a cool opportunity to strike out into new territory!) One of the things I’m working on is letting myself be cared for, even when I feel like I’m inconveniencing the people around me. I’m so grateful that I have a partner who’s so thoughtful and intentional about making sure I’m cared for.

What about you, friends? Any anniversaries, big or small, happening in your lives these days? I’d love to hear about them!

Remarkably Healing

Hello, dear readers, and apologies that this post is going up late – it’s been a weird week, and I nearly forgot what day it was.

I wrote last week about my grandfather’s passing, my complicated feelings around our relationship, and my anxiety about going to the funeral, which was last Saturday. I am pleased (and still a little surprised) to report that going to the funeral, while hard and sad, was actually a remarkably healing experience.

My extended family, including the folks I was most nervous about seeing, all either called me Alyx or avoided names altogether. I heard one aunt use the wrong pronouns once, but she corrected herself smoothly and moved on. I didn’t feel othered at all – I was included every step of the way. I felt…well, like I had a family, in a way that I haven’t felt in a while.

I know that some of the responsibility for my prior estrangement from my family is on me. I chose to pull away rather than engaging with them. I still feel like I had good reason to (I didn’t have the mental or emotional resources to manage their potential responses when I first came out), but I also recognize that I did not give them a chance to prove me wrong about how I thought they would react to my coming out.

I’m also 100% certain that a large part of why the weekend went so well has to do with my grandmother. She and I don’t see eye to eye on a lot of things, but since we reconnected this spring, she’s done a phenomenal job of showing up and showing me love and respect, which I am doing my best to return. I think the fact that my nearly-92-year-old grandmother can manage to call me Alyx and meet me where I’m at meant that no one else had any sort of excuse to do otherwise.

It was a long day (I drove from Chicago to northeast Iowa on Friday evening, and back to Chicago on Saturday evening after the funeral), but I’m glad I went. I was genuinely disappointed that I wasn’t able to stick around and spend more time with my family (it was snowing in Iowa by the time we finished lunch, and I decided to head straight home rather than risk icy roads as it got later), which I was not expecting.

One of my aunts, as we were saying our goodbyes, gave me a long, firm hug before telling me she was so proud of me, and that if anyone wasn’t, that was on them, not on me. I still well up a bit every time I think about it.

I guess what I’m saying is people are surprising, complicated creatures, and I need to do a better job of remembering that rather than jumping immediately to worst-case-scenario planning when I interact with people who I expect to disagree with. (I’m also grateful that this funeral was not a place where politics came up, because I’m sure a lot of the warm fuzzies would have been…well, less warm and fuzzy.)

Grief is Messy

It’s been an emotional week. On Sunday, I heard from my mom that my grandfather (who had been in a nursing home for a while and was on hospice) seemed to be fading, and my grandmother didn’t think he’d be around much longer. Monday morning I woke up just as my mom texted me the news that he’d died in the night.

I have been having a lot of complicated feelings about this loss. My grandfather was a sweet, gentle man in my childhood memories of him, and I looked up to him. He was also unwilling to come to terms with having a queer and trans grandkid.

The last time I saw my grandfather was at my brother’s wedding, a little over 7 years ago. We wrote letters for a while after that, attempting to reconnect. I tried to explain who I was becoming. He threw a lot of bible verses at me and tried to get me to come back to Jesus. After a particularly painful exchange, I eventually gave up. We stopped talking.

Several months ago I reconnected with my grandmother, and it went better than I expected it to. Unfortunately, by that time, we were losing my grandfather to dementia, and we decided that it was better for everyone to not try to have that conversation with him again.

I love my grandfather. I was also deeply hurt by him. In many ways, I’ve been grieving this loss for years, but there’s still a fresh element of finality to the loss, now. Grief is a messy thing. It’s not linear. There’s no timeline and no roadmap.

I’m also rather anxious about the funeral, which is happening on Saturday. I haven’t seen any of my extended family (aside from my grandma and one cousin who won’t be there) since well before I started transitioning. They all know – I sent out a zine over the summer reintroducing myself – so it won’t be a huge shock to them. But I’m still not really sure what to expect. I’m grateful for my grandmother’s support – she requested that I join the other cousins in attendance as a pallbearer, and I think the rest of the family will follow her lead in interacting with me. But it is stressful.

My grandpa was a storyteller. He was who I got my own love of storytelling from. I hope that now, released from his body, he’s able to be proud of the stories I tell and of the person I am.

Dreaming

I’m in a weird, waiting space in a few big areas of my life right now. It’s not bad, necessarily, but it’s uncomfortable and I’m hoping I’m able to start moving again soon.

In the meantime, I’m dreaming, and I’m trying to figure out how to manifest some of these dreams. (I’m also thinking about how “manifesting your dreams” usually comes down to some combination of hard work and privilege.) What do I want my life to look like? What do I want to give more time and space to? Where is my focus shifting away from things that have taken up a lot of time and space historically?

I’m trying to stay on top of assignments for my songwriting class (which I’m super grateful for at the moment, because if I didn’t have those deadlines, I probably wouldn’t be writing much at all right now). There are dreams tied to that, too – when will I hit the point where I can save a little money to record an EP? Since 2012 I’ve written almost 175 songs; more than half of those have happened in the past two years. I’m sitting on a lot of material, and it would be nice to be able to put some of it out into the world in a way that feels more permanent than the (very) occasional live show.

I really, really hope I have some more concrete news to blog about soon. In the meantime, I am trying to learn to breathe through the discomfort of waiting. I don’t know that I believe that everything happens for a reason, but I am trying to see what I can learn from this liminal space. Patience is not always my strongest virtue, but I’m working on it.

Cleanup

Hello, dear readers, and apologies for the tardiness of this post! I am in the midst of last-minute cleanup in our old apartment.

I’m currently waiting for a junk removal service to show up to take away the old furniture that didn’t move with us. I’ve been cleaning the stove, oven, fridge, various walls in and around the kitchen, and I’ve been sweeping some of the empty spaces. It’s 1:15pm and I’m already tired. I just sat down on the couch that’s going to disappear in the next hour or two, and I feel like this may have been a mistake – I know I need to move and get more done, but I would much rather nap.

We’re so close to being done. There are things to haul down to the trash, and a handful of things we need to bring back to our new place with us. There’s more sweeping and wall cleaning to do. The freezer is clean, but the fridge isn’t yet. The bathroom still needs to be cleaned. A few closets and cabinets need to be swept out. But we’re almost there.

We have to be out by noon on Saturday. That’s less than 48 hours from now. It’s weird to think this place that we called home for almost 7 years isn’t home anymore. It was our first apartment together, and it served us well, despite the maintenance issues we had over the years.

I’m looking forward to really settling into our new space in the next few weeks. I’m hoping that will get easier when we no longer need to worry about this old apartment.

I think it’s time for me to drink some water and dive back into cleaning. Onward!

Trying

Readers, it’s been a week. I’m wrestling with some sort of upper-respiratory nonsense that I hoped was just allergies but that kept me home with a fever yesterday. I feel pretty gross, and I’m really glad I had a doctor appointment scheduled for today anyway.

But let’s take a step back. I want to tell you about my weekend, when I did not feel like my head was trying to explode.

Friday night, I picked up a rental car. Saturday morning, I got up early, packed my knitting and some snacks, and hit the road to go visit my grandmother in northeast Iowa. I had not seen my grandmother in almost seven years, though we’ve been writing occasional letters back and forth for a year or so. In her last couple of letters, she expressed a desire to sit down and talk with me in person. About a month ago, when I got her last letter, I contacted her and said I would like to come for a visit, and we agreed on this past Saturday as a date.

I started on testosterone five and a half years ago, so a few things had changed since we last saw each other. I had sent her a picture of me a few months ago, so my appearance wouldn’t come as a total shock.

I really had no idea what to expect from this visit going in, but overall it went better than I could have hoped. She greeted me with a hug. We went out to lunch and she caught me up on all the latest family news. When we went back to her apartment, the talk turned more serious – she had a lot of questions about my life, and I tried to answer them honestly. I learned that her little Baptist church had recently done a study on LGBTQ issues, because their pastor recognized that we’re not going away and felt the church should decide how they were going to respond. (She sent the books they studied home with me – I haven’t read them yet, but I do want to know where she’s coming from.)

The big takeaway of the visit was that we love each other and we do want to be in each other’s lives. It was a very long day (ten total hours of driving, plus the four hour visit), but worth it. We’ll see where we go from here!

Five Years

I completely missed it when I posted last week, but on Friday, Accidental Fudge turned five! For five years I’ve written and posted a blog almost every week. That feels like a pretty big accomplishment.

Accidental Fudge started as a blog to document my gender transition. I had enough weird and amusing anecdotes in my first month on testosterone that I thought it would be fun to share them with the world. And that was great, to start. It quickly became apparent, though, that there wasn’t going to be a “here’s a weird thing I’ve noticed about my gender” moment every single week. The blog pretty steadily evolved into me telling you all about how my weeks were going – a brief newsletter of sorts. That’s also been great.

Every time the blog is another year older, I think it’s worth pausing to reflect on whether this is still something I want to invest my time in. While I often feel like I don’t have anything of value to say, I do still enjoy the challenge of coming up with something each week. And I love hearing from those of you who comment (either here or on Facebook or in person). It reminds me that I’m part of a much larger community than I sometimes realize.

So thanks, Accidental Fudge readers, for your support. Here’s to five years, and here’s to at least one more!

#WontBeErased

It’s an increasingly terrifying time to be a transgender person in the United States right now.

Over the weekend the New York Times published a leaked memo from the White House proposing that gender be defined on a national, governmental level as binary, immutable, and defined entirely by genital configuration at birth, with disputes to be settled via genetic testing to determine chromosomal configuration. There are so many things wrong with this – it conflates gender and sex, it ignores actual biology, it completely disregards the existence of intersex folks, and on and on. S. Bear Bergman wrote an excellent article about all of this and what it means, and rather than reinvent the wheel, I’m going to point you there. Please read this. The lives of your trans, non-binary, and gender expansive siblings depends on you understanding the seriousness of this.

To my cisgender friends and family: please vote. Please speak up in the face of transphobia. Trans folks can’t do this alone. Silence is complicity.

If you have the means and are looking to donate money somewhere, here are a few good organizations to support (note: I know for some people the first thought is to donate to the Human Rights Campaign, but please consider these organizations first – the HRC does not have a great track record of defending trans folks, whereas these organizations all do):

Trans Lifeline

The Transgender Law Center

The Sylvia Rivera Law Project

National Center for Transgender Equality

Transformative Justice Law Project

Lambda Legal

Coming Out

Hello, dear readers! This blog post is going up late today, because I did not write it yesterday and also because I stayed home from work today to catch up on sleep and fight off the headache I woke up with.

I’m also not really sure what to write about this week. They still haven’t caught the perpetrator of the two shootings in our neighborhood that I talked about last week, so we’re still a bit on edge, trying to figure out how to navigate our neighborhood in a way that feels safe right now. Also, on a national level here in the US, things are pretty overwhelming right now. (If you’re a US citizen and haven’t checked your voter registration or haven’t registered to vote, do so now. We need everyone to show up and vote in November. Voter suppression is a serious reality in a lot of places right now, and voter rolls have been purged in some states as a part of that, so check your registration even if you know you were registered before.)

We did have the lovely experience on Monday of seeing our friend Heather Mae play a show in our neighborhood. We got to spend a while before and after the show catching up with her and hanging out, and that was great. Go check out her music if you’re not familiar with her stuff – she’s fabulous!

Yesterday was World Mental Health Day, and today is National Coming Out Day. So I think to close this blog I’m going to combine the sentiments of those two days and tell you a little bit about myself that you may or may not know:

I am queer. Queer is a label I’ve chosen because it represents so much of who I am. It describes my orientation – I’m attracted to all sorts of people of all sorts of genders. It describes my gender – I was assigned female at birth, but realized in my mid-twenties that that didn’t fit; I’m now living and presenting in such a way that I’m read as male by the world at large, but in my heart of hearts I really don’t identify with binary gender at all. Queer also describes my brain – I have Bipolar II Disorder and Generalized Anxiety Disorder, both of which I was finally diagnosed with 9 years ago, and which I’ve been medicated for ever since. A few months ago, I had to seek out a psychiatrist to get my meds adjusted – I was manic and anxious as hell for a solid month. It was miserable, and I still don’t know how I managed to get anything done during that time. Since getting my meds adjusted, I’m feeling much more capable of handling all of the anxiety that comes from life right now.

I choose to be out and proud about all of these intersections of my identity, but I can make that choice because I live with a great deal of privilege. I have safe, nurturing spaces where I can be myself. Not everyone is so lucky. If you’re struggling with whether or not to come out today, remember that your safety comes first, and that your identity is valid regardless of how public you are with it. I see you; you’re real. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. May we all work toward a world in which “coming out,” whether it’s in regard to sexuality or gender or mental health or anything else, doesn’t carry so much weight and fear with it.